Designing my own labels was the hardest graphic design job I ever had. There was so much information. I had no distance from the project—I knew everything about the vineyards."
You might think that a graphic-designer-turned-winemaker would relish the chance to design their own labels. Not Jutta; in her words,
“It was the hardest graphic design job I ever had.”
She feels incredibly fortunate to be able to tend vineyards in Vienna; having arrived on the scene in 2004 it was still possible to persuade a winemaker to lease her some vineyards. These days, however, it is near-impossible as they are so in demand. Thus, she counts her lucky stars every day when she heads out to the vines with her dog in tow. She knows the soils and every vine inside out, tending them organically in accordance with Mother Nature’s own rhythms.
Translating these intimate relationships faithfully via the small medium of a square wine label was no mean feat.
When Jutta is able to take a break (as a winemaker and farmer, holidays are few and far between), she likes to escape to the mountains with her husband, Marco, to forage for mushrooms, to cook, to eat, sleep and read. It’s these simple aspects of living from the land that drew her to life as a winemaker.
“I grew up in the south of Burgenland – my parents were foresters. So, although I loved working as a graphic designer, I missed the idea of handcraft. Working in the vineyards, watching the sun rise, seeing all the animals that come here; it’s a way of having the best aspects of nature while living in the city.”
So, in the early 2000s, Jutta decided to leave graphic design behind, and returned to the Burgenland by day (half an hour from Vienna by car) to learn how to farm vines and make wine with Hans Nittnaus.
“I learnt by doing. I like the Nittnaus’ very much; both as people and as winemakers. Hans gave me the opportunity to work in the vineyards and to learn many steps in the vineyards and cellar. He was my first teacher.”
She commuted back and forth, falling more in love with her newfound craft day by day. Although she loved the vineyard life, she equally loved Vienna, so when the time felt right to look for her own vineyards, she gravitated towards those of the city; Vienna is unique in that there are vineyards within the city walls and on the slopes surrounding it.
A blend of dedication and luck was on Jutta’s side. She approached an elderly winemaker in the 19th district, asking him how best to go about her search for some vines. He rang her four days later, having decided she could lease a small section of one of his own.
And so, Jutta’s dream began to lay roots with a 2500sqm parcel of Riesling in the Reisenberg vineyard. A couple of years later, she also found love thanks to wine – it was a wine bar that set the scene; one night she stumbled upon a childhood friend, Marco Kalkbrenner. They got drunk together and when Jutta went to the loo, Marco accidentally set his hair on fire with a candlestick and had to dump a carafe of water over it. On return, she couldn’t figure out why he was sweating so much; only to discover the truth. They both burst out laughing and ended up kissing. The rest was history; just two months later they were married. Together they manage a Buschenschank, where they serve cold food and their wines. It’s simple, artisanal and organically farmed cold food – mangaliza pork and boudin noir from a local butcher friend, vegetables from Vienna, and buffalo and goat cheese. Jutta has been a vegetarian for 30 years, so there are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options too. Jutta says,
“It’s a very simple and pure form of gastronomy. I opened it in 2006, when I was releasing my first vintage of Riesling – 650 litres of the 2004 vintage, and had no idea where to sell it. It’s a great family place. Over the years, the clients have become friends, and many of the guests work in gastronomy.”
As land in Vienna is so expensive, to purchase a vineyard here is a pipe dream for most. Therefore, all of Jutta’s vineyards are on long-term leases; this means that she farms them herself but does not own them.
In 2005, she managed to find a Gemischter Satz vineyard (an Austrian term for a field blend of many different varieties – the historic method of planting in Vienna) in Sievering that was originally planted in ’48 and ’52. This is a rare treasure of a parcel; these old Gemischter Satz vineyards are host to a diverse array of genetic vine material, including many older and rarer varieties that are no longer frequently seen. Among them are Jubiläumsrebe, Rosenmuskateller, Kahlenberger Weisse and Grüner Silvaner. Next, she was able to add Grüner Veltliner from the Reisenberg, and since over the years has collected more parcels on either side of the Danube.
As such, she is able to explore the differences that the sites on either side of the Danube give to the wines. The cuvée Satellite comes from a parcel on the left bank of the Danube. In contrast to the right side, which is drier and stonier, which produces wines that Jutta describes as purer, the left bank has richer soils (and hence lots of potato farmers, Marco adds), which produce a slightly richer style of wine.
None of the vineyards were organic when she took them over, but bit by bit she has converted them all. It was a gut instinct. She muses,
“Every single day I walked through the vines with my dog. Working organically is the only way to feel good in the vineyard. I don’t want to get sick, or to make anyone else sick. If you treat the vineyards wrong, nobody will want to spend hours in there. But like this, they look safe and sound, and everyone who walks with us there, and who sits down in the vineyard to have a drink, feels great and safe.”
They are not certified, as certification requires that the companies they work with are also certified. They are confident, however, that soon all of the vineyards of Vienna will have to be managed organically – by law. Marco explains,
“There is a movement going on – hopefully in the next few years the whole agricultural area of Vienna will have to be treated and worked organically. If each and every person has to do so, it would make certification easy. We think this will happen within the next five years.”
He goes on to explain that glyphosate was due to be banned in Austria, but that because of administrational issues it was postponed. It is, however, a likely outcome within the next few years that glyphosate will be a thing of the past.
It’s a good time to be a vine in Vienna.
Jutta was so driven by her desire to be the perfect organic farmer that she hadn’t given the wines themselves much thought. She explains,
“That first year, in 2004, my goal was to make the perfect grapes. But that meant I was harvesting too late, and the alcohol and residual sugar was too high. I wasn’t interested in drinking the wine – I was focused on producing enormous, great grapes. But it was too much.”
At Nittnaus, she had learnt how to tend vines for red wine. She realised after that first year that her methods were all wrong for whites.
“It was a process of development! We were finding our own way of producing wines that we like to drink, that suit our taste of lower alcohol wines. We changed everything.”
The changes began in the vineyards; instead of producing four to five giant beautiful bunches per vine, they began to produce more and smaller clusters to preserve acidity. They also began harvesting much earlier. Marco nods in agreement, adding,
“We leave more leaves, and there’s more grass too. It’s a little greener and a little wilder; a little more laissez-faire. It works, because it suits the climate.”
The climate of the Viennese vineyards is on their side; while the Burgenland is suffering from hotter and hotter summers, and the Weinviertal is struggling with drought, their vineyards are somewhat less extreme in comparison. Jutta works across ten different parcels, each of which has its own unique mesoclimate. It is the essence of these sites that she wishes to capture in the final wine with as little interference as possible. As such, the wines are unfined, unfiltered and only small doses of sulphur dioxide are added. Over the years, she has learnt how to best tend each plot to maximise its aromatic expression. It is the sites that inspire the names of the wines and the graphic design of the labels. She explains,
“Designing my own labels was the hardest graphic design job I ever had. There was so much information. I had no distance from the project – I knew everything about the vineyards. I spent every day in them and knew all the treatments used. The idea was never to make a great Weingut label – it was about the vineyards and the wines themselves. That’s why my name is 1/10 of the font size of the wine’s name.”
It is this simplistic minimalism that makes Jutta’s wines so special: meticulous vineyard work every day, all year round, but minimal human intervention in the cellar. This isn’t about her own stamp; rather it’s about the vines’ stamp.